Hawks, Kings, Magic, Nets, Grizzlies
These five teams are lumped together all for similar reasons. For starters, they were among the 5 worst teams in the NBA in 2017. Most of these teams lack a bonafide star for James to team with (you can make arguments that the Grizzlies have all stars but based on 2017 it’s a huge gamble). It’s hard to even identify a clear best player on some of these teams. At this stage, Lebron is looking for an easy path – with these respective teams he would have to carry an even greater load than he did with Cleveland in 2017. The five coaches here have 12 playoff wins combined (only includes Dave Joeger and Steve Clifford) – Lebron’s Cavs won 12 games this year alone. And other than Brooklyn, whom Lebron met with in 2010, none of the cities are all that attractive. Those factors, included with the fact that these 5 teams are a long way from competing for the playoffs, let alone championships, eliminates them right off the bat.
“Not a front-runner”
Celtics, Warriors, Raptors, Pacers
Lebron cares about his image and his legacy. It’s one of the big reasons he returned to Cleveland in the first place in 2014. Because he wanted to make amends and bring a championship to his hometown teams. He was successful and now he’s ready for the next chapter. Well, that chapter is highly unlikely to include joining a team of rivals.
Warriors –beyond the obvious factors (salary/logistical barriers), the Warriors are not going to add Lebron. No further explanation needed.
Celtics – Kyrie wanted out of Cleveland to get away from Lebron. A reunion in Boston is highly unlikely. Plus Boston is loaded with one players and might be better off continuing their organic growth. They were one game away from the finals without Lebron. Sure, they’d be a finals lock with him, but if he leaves the east, they might be the favorites regardless.
Raptors – Lebron has eliminated the Raptors the last three years, including a sweep despite Toronto having the east’s best record in 2017. Hard to imagine Lebron joining a team he historically owns, and a city and fanbase who pretty much despises him. Uncertainly at head coach also makes this a no go.
Pacers – Indy has never beat Lebron’s Cavs or Heat in the postseason, though took the Cavs to 7 games in round 1 this year. In a small market, that ran Paul George out of town, Lebron might not fit the culture Indy is trying to create. Plus no way on earth, Lebron and Lance Stephenson would ever co-exist, though I would pay money to see them try
“Bright lights in the big city”
Heat, Clippers, Bulls, Knicks, Mavs, Wizards
These teams have very limited hope of landing Lebron, but given the market size and some of Lebron’s past decisions and teamates/coaching situations, these teams have to be considered at least the slightly of possibilities.
Heat – hey, Lebron did this once, didn’t he. Lebron jumped to Miami in 2010, along with Chris Bosh, to join Dwayne Wade. 8 years later, Wade is 36 years old and Bosh is long retired. The Heat’s top two players are Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic with a host of solid role players that helped the Heat make the playoffs as a 6 seed. Despite all of that, Lebron could do better than Whiteside and Dragic and the Heat are strapped for cash and can’t add another star with James like they once did. A potential grudge from Pat Riley may also bury Miami’s chances.
Clippers – because it’s LA and because Jerry West is involved, you have to at least give them a chance. Deandre Jordan is a nice player, and there were reports earlier this year that Lebron worked behind the scenes to get Cleveland to acquire him at the trade deadline. But their next best player is Lou Wiliams and Tobias Harris. Like Miami, LAC is loaded with role players which may not be appealing to Lebron after what he just experienced in Cleveland.
Bulls – Chicago is actually an interesting option given their young talent, including Zach Lavine and Lauri Markanaen. However, neither of those players or anyone else on the roster is a “sure thing” and Lebron would be taking a huge risk with the latter years of his career. He can’t afford to gamble that these young guys are ready for the next step, even if they might be.
Knicks – don’t laugh at this fact that we give the Knicks “minimal hope”. Three factors benefit the Knicks – Lebron has a previous relationship with new head coach David Fizdale, who was an assistant on Lebron’s championship teams in Miami. The Knicks have a legit star and 2017 all star, Kristaps Porzingis. And they play in New York City, where Lebron’s brand would likely double playing in the big city as opposed to Cleveland. Despite three logically sound and valid reasons, there is no further evidence that suggests the Knicks be an option. Their next best player is Tim Hardaway, who is redundant with some of the wings Cleveland has now and there isn’t a ton of promising youth on the Knicks. Plus you wonder if Phil Jackson’s constant jabs left a bad taste in Lebron’s mouth.
Mavs – despite rebuilding, Mark Cuban is the kind of owner who would roll over for Lebron and give him anything he’d like. Private jet, courtside seats for his friends. He would appease the King however he would like. However, Dirk Nowitzki is almost 40 and not the same player who beat Lebron in the 2011 finals. Dennis Smith is a solid player and the Mavs have the 4th pick but nothing on this roster is enticing enough to make the jump. The Mavs are only listed because of the potential that Mark Cuban could make Lebron happier than any other owner, at least more so than Dan Gilbert and provide more luxuries tan Pat Riley allowed for in Miami.
Wizards – Washington is cap-strapped so this isn’t a valid option. But the presence of all stars John Wall and Bradley Beal certainly make them intriguing. The problem for Washington, and why that backcourt hasn’t carried them further is a lack of depth and youth. Applying all of their resources to Lebron will further deplete them and prevent them from being a legit force. Sorry, Washington.
“If you are, what you say you are – a superstar”
This group has superstars that Lebron, or anyone in the league, would be happy to play with. The problem with this group is these teams are all strapped for cash and play in smaller markets.
Bucks – Imagine a Lebron-Giannis front court? Get out of the way when those two men are driving to the basket. The Bucks have a good mix of youth and veterans – guys like Kris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Eric Bledsoe would all compliment Lebron very well. Plus the Bucks have his good old friend Matthew Dellavedova. However, as mentioned, oddly here are unlikely given the Bucks salary cap situation and small market.
Thunder – OKC has managed multiple all stars before. They once ran out a trio of Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant-James Harden. This past year their big three was Russell Westbrook-Paul George-Steven Adams (who else would be considered #3 for OKC?). Ideally, Lebron and Westbrook would be a perfect fit and compete with the Warriors. Especially, if they were able to keep Paul George around too. Some guy named Carmelo Anthony is due $28 million in 2018-19 and that is why OKC is strapped for cash and can’t possibly accommodate this dream scenario.
Wolves – Tom Thibedeau’s teams always played Lebron tough in the playoffs when he was the coach of the Bulls. Lebron reportedly tried to orchestrate a trade involving Jimmy Butler last summer, so you know he’d be happy playing with him and why wouldn’t he want to play with budding star Karl Anthony Towns. Ironically, the reason the Wolves are capped out and can’t afford Lebron is because they gave Andrew Wiggins a max contract during the summer of 2017 – the same Andrew Wiggins that Lebron ordered the Cavs to trade for Kevin Love upon his return to Cleveland in 2014. Oh the irony.
Pelicans – Anthony Davis is one of the 5 best players in the NBA. In theory, him and Lebron would compete for championships every year and could potentially knock off the Warriors. The problem is New Orleans has overpaid role players such as Solomon Hill, Etwuan Moore, plus the trade for Nikola Mirotic puts them at about the salary cap. They also have decisions to make on Demarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo. Despite the potential of an AD-Lebron pairing, the cupboard would be rather bare to make this pairing work which makes it unlikely.
Blazers – there is the interesting Nike/Portland connection involved in this, but Lebron playing in the northwest seems unlikely. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum certainly make the Blazers an intriguing team but they are in cap hell due to questionable contracts given to Evan Turner. Mo Harkless, Meyers Leonard. They have minimal tradeable assets and barring a trade of Lillard or McCollum for another star or young assets, they are virtually stuck in their current state.
Hornets – we included Charlotte in this section for two reasons. One, Kemba Walker is a star, despite never really being treated like one around the league. And two, because of Michael Jordan. This could be a good and bad reason. Imagine Lebron lead’s MJ’s hornets to the franchise and city’s first ever NBA title? Imagine how that would impact the best ever debate? The shadow of MJ (plus a bevvy of role players on the roster) makes this pairing unlikely.
Pistons – Blake Griffin as a superstar is certainly questionable, but to be honest we had nowhere else to place the Pistons. Questions about why Griffin is a star and his fit next to Andre Drummond, plus the legitimacy of Reggie Jackson – is he good enough to lead a team, is all you need to know about why the Pistons wouldn’t be a fit for Lebron at this stage of his career.
Suns – we actually considered including the Suns in the realistic possibilities section but just couldn’t do it. The Suns are on the cusp and we expect big moves this summer. With Devin Booker and Josh Jackson in the mix and Deandre Ayton expected to join the picture, the Suns have the cap space to add a veteran to their young nucleus. That veteran won’t be Lebron, but could be someone like Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle, Derrick Favors.
Nuggets – Nikola Jokic is a star in this league and this summer or next he will be paid like it. How would Lebron fit with Jokic and Paul Milsap? It might be an awkward mix and the Nuggets lack shooters, which are the best kind of teammates for Lebron given his style of play. A lack of recent success also hurts Denver.
Jazz – Donovan Mitchell proved this season that he can play. Quin Snyder proved that he can coach. Rudy Gobert showed that he can defend. But would Lebron really sign with Utah? Would his kids (13 and 11 are the ages of his two oldest boys) really enjoy growing up and going to high school in Utah? Despite the presence of those three men, Lebron is unlikely to consider the Jazz.
76ers, Lakers, Spurs, Cavs, Rockets
We have gone through 25 teams – those 25 are unlikely to land Lebron barring some crazy behind the scenes magic to free up cap space and/or add more stars to their mix. These remaining 5 teams are, as of now, the only realistic options to add Lebron. The question for Lebron is what is important to him – friends? family? winning? city? coaching? All of these teams make sense for different reasons and it’s hard to pinpoint the reason without getting inside Lebron’s head.
Coming soon is our attempt to assess each of those factors along with the 5 remaining teams.